The View from Venus: Sports and the Culture of Rape

Published on October 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm

By ABBY FINKELMAN
Women’s Initiative

PUBLISHED OCTOBER 18, 2011

If you want to harass, assault, or rape a woman, I suggest being an athlete. Not only will people be inclined to believe you when you deny it, they will help out by calling your accuser a slut, insisting that she must have wanted it, and possibly sending her death threats.

You do not have to be big time. Just a local star will do. Like the high school cheerleader in Texas who was kicked off the squad after refusing to cheer the name of the boy who raped her. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her lawsuit as “frivolous” and is requiring her to pay the school’s $45,000 in legal fees. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Lisa Olson won her suit against the NFL after she was harassed by New England Patriots players, but I am guessing the $65,000 the team and players were fined was cold comfort to her after the award-winning sports journalist had to leave the Boston Herald and move to Sydney because of the death threats, slashed tires, and burglarized apartment. Yes, a woman was sexually harassed while doing her job, and when she told the public about it the response was to send her death threats.

That was in 1990. In 2010, Inés Sainz, a reporter for Mexico’s TV Azteca was harassed in the locker room of the New York Jets. Sainz is, well, a very attractive woman. And she dresses, well, the way very attractive women are encouraged to dress. So when NFL players ogled her and made lewd comments, she was blamed. Her looks and her clothing were the story. When I quickly Googled her, the first hit was Wikipedia. The second was from bleacherreport.com, a piece titled “20 Most Distracting Sideline Reporters Ever,” featuring a slideshow of “some of the most distractingly hot sideline reporting ladies ever”.

I just wrote a paragraph about Kobe Bryant, and then deleted it, because I do not want to get sued for libel. So I will not comment on whether or not I think it is likely that the woman who accused him of rape dropped her case because of the things people were saying about her in the press (that she was a gold digging famewhore, for instance), and because of the death threats she was receiving, and because she did  not like having her character and mental health dragged through the mud on television (not that it matters if she has a lot of sex or is bipolar). Since I am not calling him a rapist, I will not say that it is rape culture that allows this to happen.

That is an extra layer of problematic, there. Ranks close around these stars–the University of Washington football team in 2000 is a good example; they covered up numerous crimes by numerous athletes, including a violent rape, because, the head coach said said “[we] don’t give up on a player because he makes one mistake”–and even accusing them of rape requires money, because they do not just have fans willing to slash your tires. They have legal teams.

I do not know what it is about sports that encourage the tropes of rape culture. It affects other sorts of celebrities (Roman Polanski comes to mind), but sports culture and rape culture are deeply linked. I suspect it is a combination of the team effect, rabid fans, and a generally “macho” atmosphere, and lawsuits (if you can afford them) aren’t going to change any of that. What will is simple, really. The fans, the players, and the management just have to decide that women’s rights–human rights–are more important than winning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicmart Nicolas Martin

    How does Ms. Finkleman explain the 80 percent drop in rapes since the 1970s?

    Bureau of Justice Statistics: Rape Rates
    http://liten.be//i1E6W

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1449300009 Abby Finkelman

      Ms. Finkelman prefers to respond to comments that take the time to spell her name correctly, but nonetheless…that link doesn’t actually go anywhere, by the way. So I don’t have any idea if your number is correct. If it is, however, I would say first that one number doesn’t mean much, second that just because rapes have decreased doesn’t in any way invalidate the idea that we live in a rape culture, and third that I have 580 words here. I assume that if readers want to find out more, they’re capable of using a search engine.

      Who are you, anyway, Nicolas Martin? All I can see from your Facebook page is that you live in Richmond, IN, and hold political views that I suspect don’t make you predisposed to agree with much of anything a feminist has to say. Well, I say “suspect”. You’re a “fan” of antimisandry.com, whose tagline is “Curing Feminist Indoctrination”. So, actually, I *know* that you’re predisposed to disagree with what I write here.

  • Michelle Katz

    And what about female coaches assaulting their players? Does that not count?